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Ben Stein: 4 lessons from the recession

In a recent internet article, Ben Stein (economist, writer, actor, etc.) discusses 4 lessons from the recession –  

 The lessons are: 

1. Economic forecasting is still an extremely difficult gambit and nowhere near a science. It is a lot more like astrology than mathematics. 2. Financial market forecasting is even more troublesome than economic forecasting. 

3. The amount of lying and deception by the financial sector of this country has been breathtaking. 

4. The government has no special abilities to forecast or predict a darned thing. 

He concludes with some interesting lessons for the investor: 

A look back at what the financial crisis has taught us.

There is much more that could be said about the lessons of the crash and the recession, but there are lessons to be learned about individual investor behavior that are critical, too.  

One important one: liquidity in a very secure form is a beautiful thing. Those persons who had a lot of cash or Treasury bonds or otherwise insured savings had a much more restful and happier recession than others with almost all of their money tied up in stocks or real estate.  

If I had only one lesson to offer investors, it would be to keep invested in both stocks and bonds and keep plenty of liquidity in good times and bad.  

Secretary Geithner’s “stress tests” which reassured investors about banks, was a brilliant idea and has worked wonders. But the timing and efficacy of government bailouts is very much in doubt on any short-term basis, and brings up a final important lesson: It is up to the prudence and foresight of the ordinary investor to save the ordinary investor and his or her family. The government will not and cannot do it for you.  

You must be diversified between different asset classes and you must maintain liquidity. And you have to assume that the worst can happen and plan accordingly, which means having not just a bare minimum but somewhat more. We have just had a scary episode and a close shave, and we do not know for sure that the nightmare is over.  

Learn the lessons and act as if the worst could happen again at any time. It can and it will. Let us pray a recovery is happening — but let us also tighten our helmet straps. 

And another little note … my much-missed father used to tell me with great approval Adam Smith’s famous quote regarding prophecies of doom for America, “there is a lot of ruin in a nation.”  

I was moved to recall this when I saw Warren Buffett’s optimistic read on the economy at a great ‘town hall” he gave with Bill Gates at Columbia recently. In answer to a query about the short-term future of the market, he waved aside “what’s going to happen tomorrow” and instead said, regarding America, something like, “If you have a good farm, with good crops and good soil and you know you’re going to have five droughts in the next fifty years, you don’t let it affect you that much.”  

I am paraphrasing here, because I saw it on CNBC while eating dinner, but perhaps Buffett’s meaning was, “Don’t sell America short.” At least not for the long run.  

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